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Can you make an external USB hard drive, bootable and use as a Primary Drive

By pepsi1 · 5 replies
Feb 4, 2010
  1. Hello all. I have a technical background (hardware control systems), but am by no means a threat to any IT guy who actually understands DOS (Greek), or different OS platforms. In that regard, I will claim ignorance with a smidgen of knowledge---just so you know who you are dealing with and will correspondingly, dumb down your answers to my level (slightly smarter than a pile of rocks when it comes to absorbing this type of information).

    I have a Dell GX630, 3.2 GHz computer with Windows XP Pro SP3 that is replacing my older 700MHz machine. I have painfully copied all programs, files, and added the peripheral hardware (printer, scanner, modems) to make this a duplicate replacement computer system with an addition monitor.

    I have read all the posts for making a bootable flash drive (stick) and made both a Hirens bootable stick (three different sticks, Sandisk 4GB, Kingston 1 GB, and a generic 16GB) and a BartPE bootable CD disk….my eyes bled, and the hammering base drum in my head has subsided. I’m Scotch/Irish/German with no desire to conquer the world, drink every Pub dry, and do it for little or no money, but I am stubborn, hard-headed, and tenacious to a fault.

    My goal is to make a stand-a-lone Seagate FreeAgent USB (self powered) external drive, a working replacement "main drive (0)" for my computer with it’s own operating system
    (XP Pro SP3). I used the Seagate software to clone the C SATA drive to this USB drive (NTFS). The reality is to have a cloned external hard drive that could be used to boot a computer and clone a new internal hard drive if the original SATA drive had a mechanical malfunction. I don’t want to just backup files, but all programs, drivers, and the same OS.

    The USB drive works as a duplicate storage device with all files and information that the SATA drive holds, when one does a normal boot. The USB drive won’t boot after the BIOS has been changed to USB device, priority 1 in the boot file. The sticks do, but not this hard drive.
    I assume it lacks either the boot ini files that the sticks need, or that the USB recognition function for a hard drive come later in the boot sequence and thus is not recognized. Obviously I don’t understand this stuff or I could fix it myself.

    In my readings of boot problems on this site, I noticed a topic about multiple partitioning of a stick, as well as fooling the DOS into thinking the stick was an actual internal hard drive, thus assigning drive letters for the primary, and remaining volume. It is a guide in the guide forum...actually a post to a link lancelhoff, multi-partition USB flash drive in windows.

    Is this the approach to use, or am I mixing apples with oranges and doomed to fry something?
  2. Ididmyc600

    Ididmyc600 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 1,309


    not sure what you are trying to acheive, from what ive read you cant get windows to boot from an exteranl usb hdd no matter what you do.

    if its just for disaster recovery then do what i do.

    you can ,make flash sticks bootable but i never could make a HDD bootable using windows, so i took the drive out of the enclosure and put it in my laptop, i booted from a win98 cd and fdisked and formatted the drive then sys'd it to make it bootable, i copied ghost onto it and wrote a small autoexec.bat file to set ghost running at boot up.

    i then booted from it with it plugged into the laptop and ran a disk clone to a file onto the USB HDD.

    when i want to restore it i just image the drive in from the USB HDD and im done.
  3. pepsi1

    pepsi1 TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks for the reply.
    I could easily install a second drive cloned to the C drive but what fun would that be?
    If one can maneuver a USB stick to boot a Windows computer, or if one can figure out a means to partition a USB stick and treat it as a hard drive in the Device Manager, why can’t a USB hard drive be maneuvered to do the same thing?

    My original project is to plan for a disaster recovery, but why stop there? If one could boot and run a computer from an external drive you could have multiple operating systems, one per drive, and have everything in that computer at your disposal….printers, scanners, audio systems, TIVO management, or a whole video/architectural system depending on what drive you boot from. You have a record player and change records for a different music collection.

    Prior to 2005, the stated line of thinking was you boot by hard drive, you boot by CD, or you boot from a floppy disk, but no way can one use a USB flash drive, let alone partition that device. Alas, that rubber tree fell, along with the 137 GB drive limitations. I believe it is possible, especially for one well versed in DOS and boot procedures.

    I could set up the external drive with Hirens or PEBart, but both require wiping the drive. I could set up the drive as a clone of the C drive, but it won’t boot. The metrics are mutually exclusive, thus one but not both. If there was a way to have the drive recognized as an internal hard drive, or a USB stick (Hiren’s Boot), then adding a few key boot commands with autorun that treated the drive as internal should remove the controversy….cased closed. At least, that’s what this old dog thinks should be available.
    Unfortunately, DOS is not a language I speak, nor is the interrelationship of boot files.
    I know there are exterior supplemental chips, working with the CPU that set the parameters of booting and auxiliary electronic functions like the keyboard, graphics, and the keys to the kernel…..but that is about my limit.

    CadCam is all consuming. Wouldn't it be nice to plug in a drive that handled that function, and use the internal drive for normal use?
    If you do priority work, wouldn't it be nice if you could unplug that drive and place it under lock and key so the day that some bum steals the laptop out of your car or suitcase, all he gets is limited to normal functionality?
  4. Ididmyc600

    Ididmyc600 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 1,309


    there are removal drive caddies you can buy for desktop PC's, or you could try using a virtual desktop program, with desktops, ive seen some BIOS that allow you to choose which drive to boot from (as opposed to just booting primary master or one that has a boot record).

    As for this parcticular thread i cant come up with any more help, like i said ive tried getting USB drives to be bootable and succeded in doing so but only with DOS not with an OS, i think though that i may just give it a try with windows 98 to start with and see what happens,

    If i should get any luck i will reply to this thread so subscribe to it to receive replies and we'll see.
  5. pepsi1

    pepsi1 TS Rookie Topic Starter

    If you look in the Guide forum for nobardin's making an external drive bootable and stealthmode's comment in that thread, you should see where I'm heading. I have a flash stick with XP Pro bootable (Hiren's adaptation using a different boot ini) that works on three different sticks....so that part works. There is also a guide for partitioning a USB stick and tricking the boot process into thinking it is an internal drive. I'm leaning in that direction for a bootable external drive. Unfortunately DOS is not my forte' so it is trial and error...mostly error.

    If I manage to stumble on something that works I'll post it in this thread....don't worry about the techno-speak, I'm not verse enough to use it...LOL
  6. pepsi1

    pepsi1 TS Rookie Topic Starter

    One step closer:
    I’m using the BartPE CD disk and the 750GB Maxtor self-powered USB drive (formatted) to get a bootable external drive. The CD disk seems to work as I am now able to go to the “Windows” set-up screen and find the drive listed (normal SATA “C” drive is physically disconnected and not part of the active BIOS choices). The set-up asks which drive I want to install Windows XP Pro on and I click the USB drive (now shown as the “C” drive).
    The following statement appears:

    Your computer start-up program cannot gain access to the disk containing the partition, or free space you chose. Set-up cannot install Windows XP on this disk. The lack of access does not necessarily indicate an error condition. For example, the disk may be attached to a SCSI adapter that wasn’t installed by the computer manufacturer, or a second hard disk controller, are typically not visible to start-up unless special software is used. The SATA drive is the original from the factory so it's not something to do with a controller for it.

    What does that mean and what special software are they referring to in their statement?
    Do I need to install a driver for the USB hard disk in the Bart’s CD? If yes, how?

    If I remember correctly there is nothing special about the USB driver, the SATA picks up the device as soon as it is plugged in, meaning to me, that XP OS has the needed driver in its files. It normally recognizes the new hardware (USB drive) has been plugged in and it opens after that, nothing more needed. As I have stated before, I’m no expert with this DOS language so a little translation would be helpful.

    Found this:
    Roderick van Domburg's explanation (Systems analyst at Peterson SBS):

    During booting, Windows resets the USB port and loses your boot device. That’s why an installation from USB normally fails. But by using Windows 2003 Server’s ramdisk feature in the early phases of booting, we circumvent that problem.

    Don’t be mislead though: you’ll be installing Windows XP all the same. It’s just that we’ll be using two Windows 2003 Server files from the Service Pack to do it.
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